Land's End to John O'Groats 2012
Leeds to Stockton on Tees - Wednesday, 1st August - Yorkshire Day
Another busy day ahead. The route had been planned by me so with fewer miles over relatively flat terrain, it was regarded as one of our easier days. Little did we realise just how busy, nor the impending emotional rollercoaster that would unfold and change forever the meaning of Yorkshire Day for everyone involved with the ride.
I got up early, dressed in the most normal clothing I could find then went into Leeds in search of a toothbrush and USB lead for the Garmin. This was a very odd experience, I was brain dead floating in a dream world amongst the early morning commuters. Conspicuous in my bright yellow jacket, I felt slightly ill at ease back in the normal world having briefly escaped the 'bike ride bubble'.
Boots and Wilkinsons obliged with my retail requirements, the woman in Wilkinsons kindly found some scissors to hack into the otherwise impenetrable plastic vacuum sealed packaging. Back at the Travelodge, I plugged the Garmin into my computer's USB and hoped that there was time enough for a reasonable charge. I joined Gav in the foyer for breakfast whilst Jen worked on Rob's ankle on the bench opposite. Jen was back with us to provide extra support as far as Dunfermline.
There was slight confusion as lots had been arranged but the actual schedule was uncertain. Carol met us at the hotel, the bikes were loaded up on the van and we drove to the Harley Davidson dealership on Wellington Road, our rendezvous point. We met up with Dave and about twenty Harley Davidson bikes which would be our escort to Millennium Square.
The carnival atmosphere began as Haydn and Dave donned Yorkshire flag capes. Jen led us in some warm up exercises and after much faffing, we were underway. At 10.10 am, the convoy snaked out onto the dual carriageway as the rush hour traffic made way for the bus & flag bedecked trailer in front driven by Carol, then the cyclists each flanked by two Harleys and finally the van driven by Alex. It was quite a sight.
An impressive crowd had gathered in Millennium Square to welcome us and my heart rate was racing. Lots of BTRS supporters, family, my brother John, two work colleagues, friends and guest cyclists were all waiting as the Salvation Army band provided an accompaniment to the festivities, just brilliant. We were introduced to the Lord Mayor of Leeds and had many photographs taken. The local Mini dealer Statstone was supporting the event with three vehicles parked alongside. We were invited into the Civic Hall for tea and biscuits with the Lord Mayor!
photograph by John Ashton - with the Leeds Lord Mayor
The convoy then regrouped, this time escorted by the Minis for the short journey around to the Stratstone dealership for more photos. One of our official sponsors, Plantforce sent a low loader to join the parade and we all jumped on the back of it for more photographs. The cyclists then set off, together with some of the Harleys for the most important of the morning's visits, to meet Ian at St. Gemma's.
We were well strung out on Chapeltown Road and I stayed near the back with some of the guest riders. As we pulled into St. Gemma's car park, it was immediately obvious that something was wrong. Tina approached me and I could see in her face before she confirmed it, the dreadful news that Ian had died. I'd kind of felt the night before that it would be the last time I'd see Ian, I'm so glad that we'd been able to do that.
It was so sad. I'd only really known the Meeks a short time but Ian and his family had shown me so much kindness. He was such a gentle person who had achieved a great deal and inspired many others to do the same. As Ian's Nanna Jean had told me, it was as if we'd all been living in a bubble whilst Ian was so ill, and now somehow the bubble had burst. I looked around at the faces of the others and saw the absolute grief and sorrow, it was terrible. I really didn't know what to say or do.
The team decided to wait for a while, Ian's brother Phil was travelling up from Bristol and Rob wanted to be there when he arrived. In the meantime, someone asked if we'd like to go up and see Ian. Gav and Haydn said that they did, so I followed them with Rob up the stairs in support. I'm glad that I did. Ian looked peaceful dressed in his LE2JOG ride t-shirt, the image will stay with me forever. I paid my respects and left the room to sit with some of Ian's family just outside, whilst waiting for the others.
Dave agreed to lead a number of the guest cyclists on the next leg of the route to Tadcaster and they left. It was obvious that everyone wanted us to continue with the ride. Ian's family very kindly gave us Ian's Olympic torch and we promised to look after it with the utmost care. After Phil arrived, we gradually pulled things together and feeling pretty numb we filed out of the car park.
Originally, the plan had been to head north towards Wetherby but Ian had asked me to plot a new route in order to take in Tadcaster. We followed Alex around the Leeds ring road before meeting the A64 towards York. My route avoided the busy A64 dual carriageway altogether, but I really didn't care. With Alex behind us it proved the quickest way into Tadcaster and we arrived at around 4.00 pm outside John Smiths brewery for another welcoming reception.
Ian had worked at the brewery and many of his friends and former colleagues were there to greet us. Inside was a spread of food and drinks and the reception area was decorated with huge enlarged pictures of the LE2JOG team. Dale was there and it was so so good to see him. I'd really valued the support he and Alan had given me in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset and I shook his hand warmly.
My brother John met up with us again to provide extra support for the next couple of days and take photographs. Carol had stuff to do in Leeds but would drive the bus up to Dunfermline in a few days and provide support from there to JOG. With Dave somewhere ahead, the team of four left Tadcaster following Alex and Jen in the van with John driving behind. Most of the day's cycling was still ahead and the sun was getting low in the sky.
We left Tadcaster on Wighill Lane before joining the Roman Road north over the River Nidd, across the A59 then on past Whixley and Little Ouseburn. Our first puncture occurred in Boroughbridge. Gav's front tyre was completely flat so Haydn, Gav and Rob set to work swapping inner tubes on the pavement outside some shops.
As time was getting on, we decided it might be sensible to have an evening meal on-route to Stockton in order to avoid searching for food at what would be such a late hour. Alex and Jen were despatched to Morrisons in Boroughbridge to buy provisions for a healthy picnic. I was conscious about the Garmin's battery life so turned it off but forgot to turn it back on again until we were just the other side of Topcliffe on the A167. In that time we'd followed the A168 alongside the A1 as far as Dishforth before a few harrowing miles along the A168 dual carriageway.
It was very pleasant cycling along a quiet country road as the evening sun's rays slanted across the fields. We crossed the A61 and a few miles later had our second puncture, unbelievably to Gav's rear wheel. At a bend in the road, a farm track led off to the left into a wheat field which was handy for parking whilst we waited for the van to return with provisions and bike spares. A phone call discovered that Alex and Jen were not far way and soon the orange flashing beacon could be seen approaching.
Whilst the tyre was being repaired, Alex and Jen prepared a picnic table of cashew nut salad, beetroot, whole cooked chicken, quiche, boiled eggs, juice and champagne. This was a truly memorable meal with fresh food, good company and wonderful surroundings, all illuminated by the last rays of warm evening sunshine. Of course Ian was blamed for testing us with punctures and we could all imagine him having a good laugh at our expense. Someone suggested that Yorkshire Day should be renamed and we drank a toast to the very first Ian Meek Day. With Ian's memory in mind we packed up and set off again for Northallerton.
Three miles further on Gav had his third puncture. The repair to his rear tyre had given way again. Something was wrong because after another repair job, the tyre was flat by the time the wheel was put on the bike. It was getting late and with at least twenty miles still to run, it was decided to switch wheels altogether and for Gav to use my spare. This was a compromise, my wider touring tyre was not a perfect replacement and the cassette offered gear selection challenges for Gav. The worst aspect was that the brake blocks touched the tyre edge so Gav was instructed not to use the rear brake! It did though get us on our way. I suggested ringing the B&B to tell them we were still coming.
We passed through Northallerton and possibly took a wrong turn instigated by the van's sat nav trying to take us on the A19. Back on the A167, we reached Great Smeaton and turned right to Hornby, then followed the B1264 to Yarm. After twelve and a half hours, the Garmin finally died.
It was dark and the roads were unfamiliar. John's headlights illuminated us from behind, casting weird rippling shadows across the uneven shiny wet tarmac. My recollection is that we reached the A66 and travelled west for a while along the dual carriageway to the next junction. Looking at the map, we probably then went along Yarm Back Lane, Darlington Back Lane then Harrowgate Lane to meet up with the A177 near Tesco. Rob's light was so bright that I made a very respectable rabbit shadow puppet on the back of the van.
We were heading for Thorpe Thewles Lodge which was up the A177 somewhere ahead on the left. Rob rang the Lodge guy and using his phone's earpiece guided us in. Alex stopped and pointed to a gate in the hedge on the left which we could go through as a short cut across the fields but the vehicles would have to drive round. We had to lift the bikes over a locked gate further on but at 11.45 pm we eventually found the Lodge and allocated rooms. We discovered that Dave had found his way there too and was fast asleep in his room. Gav, Haydn and I shared a big room whilst Alex and Rob were upstairs. Jen was in a separate part of the house round the side.
Joanne, my fiance was travelling down from Durham to meet us and collect washing! I walked down the lane to meet her in the darkness and soon spotted the headlights approaching. It was wonderful to see her, it hit me just how much I'd missed her whilst being on the ride. For a second time, I felt like I was coming home. John was staying at Joanne's overnight, so it was only a fleeting visit before they both left. We arranged to all meet up in Durham in the morning.
It was well after midnight - what a day.
To Berwick on Tweed